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It’s hard to believe that just over a week ago I was telling you all about my enrollment in the Matador U’s Travel Writing course.  Now a couple of weeks in, I have submitted my first assignment – writing about my home town.  There have been a couple of revisions to the initial draft, but I hope that you all feel like you are with me as I returned ‘Home’ to this place I love so much.

Travel writing evolution Assignment – Returning home

Reminders of home

Across the farming land I see them.  The high-rises of my home town.  Two concrete wheat silos standing tall above the mallee scrub. Their corrugated tin roofs reflecting the hot summer sun’s rays back up into the brilliant blue, cloudless sky, and I know I’m almost home.

IMG_3449

The newest additions to Patche – Two 10 meter tall Mallee Fowls. The intention is that they will become a draw card for travellers hoping to tick visiting all the ‘big things’ off their list.

Past the ‘Welcome to Patchewollock’ sign the deserted main street is a familiarity.  The football oval a silvery grey, with bands of brown.  The grass long dead after years of drought and the weeds now crusty from the early summer heat. The old general store, though closed now for years, stands beyond black and yellow striped tape, a caution by the council of danger.  The local hotel, the hub of our community, freshly painted but desolate.  The farmers too busy with harvest to call in for a cold beer or a quite yarn.

Across the road, two giant mallee fowls. Their 10 meter tall structures built to honor this native flightless bird that was once thought to be close to extinction, but now which frequently roams across our remote desert landscape.  They seem strange; foreign, yet their sculptured bodies and finely detailed painted feathers provide our small town with a glimmer of tourist hope.

Nothing has really changed, but it all seems slightly different.  Perhaps I am seeing it through new eyes. Once a town at the ‘end of the line’, many may see it as a lost cause.  A town without life, without heart, without hope, but I know its secret.

Before I know it we are out of town. Where I’d previously thought a puddle of water lay on the road, now only dry bitumen remains. The watery mirage from the 40 degree heat now dancing on the road 50 meter’s ahead.

Golden Fields of Wheat

Golden Fields of Wheat

As far as the eye can see, paddocks after paddock of golden wheat line the road, their full heads of grain swaying in the light summer breeze, a living tribute to the settlers that selected and cleared this land in the early 1900′s. Land that their grandchildren and great grandchildren continue to work and graze in this harsh but un-spoilt corner of Victoria’s northwest.

The blue bitumen turns to white gypsum and the white gypsum to red dirt. The type of dirt that burns your feet on a hot summer’s day, that’s fine enough to stick to your skin after a hard day’s work and the type of dirt that creates a layer of dust on EVERYTHING inside the house after a mid-season dust storm. I know I am home.

The shearing shed, the grain shed. The tractors and the trucks, all reminders of my childhood.  Memories engrained in the sand, the sheds and the land these machines have worked.

Memories of racing through the pouring rain on pushbikes. Of sitting on Dad’s knee and steering the huge tractor and of resting in its wheel hub while sharing cheese and jam sandwiches under a shady tree in the middle of the vast open paddocks.

The smell of freshly turned soil after a rain and the sound of large rain drops falling on the tin roof as I fell to sleep on stormy summer nights. Of waking up to the stillness and calmness of the farm.  The only noise that of birds chirping in the cool of the morning and of the dogs barking, marking the new day.

Getting out of the car, the still dry heat hits me. It has been 20 months since I was last home and only 30 hours since I left a snow dusted Calgary. It feels a long way from where I have come, but everything about this place remains alive within me and I know in my heart that this will always be my home.

DSC_0479_Snapseed - Shearing shed

I always know this is ‘home’

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For some time now I have been tossing up about the idea of undertaking a writing course, a photography course or both. And then I think about the cost of them and wonder if I could manage to ‘self-teach’ myself everything that there is to know. *Insert laughter here*

Procrastination of these sort of things are something that I know all to well. But last week I decided to take the plunge. Yep. I finally enrolled in the Matador University Travel writing course, (http://matadornetwork.com/) and after the initial ‘OMG What have I done!’, which is what I usually do when things outside of the norm happen, I’m feeling good about the decision I’ve made.

Obviously by my *insert laughter here* comment earlier, like most things outside the daily grind, actually taking the time for myself to sit down and research what I needed to learn about travel writing would wane over time, not to mention the extra time it would take to ‘filter’ through all the information that is available on the worldwide web. Then again in 6 months, 12 months, or even 3 years time I’d still be in the same place, wishing I had done something about it way back when.

Being an online course, Matador allows me the ability to undertake my research, read my notes and complete my assignments at a time that is convenient to me (if this week is anything to go by, that is usually around 10pm at night when I crawl into bed). I have undertaken self paced study before and at times I’ve found it difficult to find the mind space when I got home from work to sit down and study, especially when you are studying subjects to further your career.

While Matador doesn’t technically give you a ‘must complete by date’, a new chapter is released weekly, meaning if you wish, you can finish the course in as little as 12 weeks (my personal aim is to have the course completed by March 31st, 2013). The added bonus – you have life long access to the course material and website for the small upfront fee of $350. In reality.. over time, it’s a great investment.

I know a lot of you are probably thinking, ‘yeah, but if you only need to access it for the first 12 weeks, it’s pretty expensive’, well think about this.

Matador also provides you with a forum for you to post live blog content, photographs and film footage, allowing you to gain valuable feedback from like-minded community members and educators as well as access to a wide variety of paid writing, photography and film opportunities. And for a company that has an association with well-known organizations such as ‘National Geographic‘, Society of American Travel Writers (S A T W), Aol Travel and Transitions Abroad.com, how could anyone not consider a Matador’s course.

DSC01602Aside from everything that Matador offers, undertaking this course allows me to have ME time. Allows me to do something that I love doing – writing. If simply I just learn tips and techniques that only my friends and family read, along with a handful of travelers, I will still be happy.

Obviously there’s a much greater goal (as mentioned in my blog ‘‘ earlier this week), but if Plan A doesn’t happen.. I can still live the Plan B life I’m currently living – that of a contract para-planner with a wish to work all over the world.

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The Details:

Who: Matador University

What: Self-paced online study for:

Time Line: Minimum: 12 weeks / maximum: unlimited

Cost: $350US (occasional discounts may apply)

Note: You have the ability to sign up for a week’s trial for $10US on any of the courses. Should you feel that Matador is not for you, you can cancel your enrollment at anytime prior to the full amount being debited against your account.

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Most of my life I have loved writing.

In earlier years it was a pen to paper.  I’m sure that the people who read the local Primary School newsletter back in the ’90’s got sick of me. In my high school years I entered competition after competition.. but alas.. I was not successful.

All throughout that time I kept a diary.. The Secret Diary of me.  A diary that I even drilled a hole in, just so I could loop a padlock through.. just incase my brothers found it. I out wrote that diary, and then the next came.. and the one after.. and the one after.  Somewhere in the flat behind Mum’s, and packed away in a box is the complete set of my diaries.

Over the years they have changed.. but there is the usual teenage crush wallows, teenage girls stuff.. school stuff… and then came the real life writings.  Stepping out and moving out of home, new jobs, problems at jobs, weekends away, breaking hearts, buying a house.  Intermittently I’d stop writing for a few days, weeks, months, but there was always something that led me back.

In 2006 when I travelled to Ireland, I started with the usual travel diary.. it too grew to a second, and a third, and a fourth… and I belive too that there is a fifth.  They became my 12 months in Ireland..

When I moved to Canada.. I started with great intentions.  Each night in the hostel I would write what had happened during the day.. as time went along.. I would write occasionally.. but not all the time.  Just when I got the urge..  Then finally I decided to give blogging a go.  Why not?  What did I have to lose?  and so it began.

My intention was to blog about everything and anything. To be honest and to open myself up to the world.  Honestly.. it’s a little bit harder than I anticipated.

But it was a step and a step that I hope to build on in 2013.  2012 has been great for many reasons… some you have read about on here and some that I am still to blog about.. but the biggest surprise of all has been the number of people who have visited my blog and the number of countries they have come from… THANK YOU TO EVERYBODY who has taken the time to sit back and have a read, a laugh, or even a cry.. I could never imagine that people from all over the world would be dropping by…and I hope to see you all, and many more in 2013.. xx N

Here’s an excerpt:

The new Boeing 787 Dreamliner can carry about 250 passengers. This blog was viewed about 1,500 times in 2012. If it were a Dreamliner, it would take about 6 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

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Ever since I got my new camera I’ve wondered if I could manage to pull off one of those spectacular startrail photographs that grace the web.

Surely with the camera I’ve got (Nikon D5100) I should have at least half a chance, but alas my first attempt in the Canadian Rockies at the remote location of Beaverfoot Lodge left ALOT to be desired and me wondering if I could ever really pull this photography trick off.  Needless to say my spirits that night were down and out…

Fast forward a couple of months and I am now back home in Australia and in our little corner of Victoria.

The best part of growing up on a farm is that there is no light pollution from the big city lights (we live about 3km out of town and the town would be lucky to have 5/6 street lights!).. the other part about being back home in Oz is that it is Summer and even at 10:30 / 11:00 at night, the temperature is still hovering around a mild 25 degrees celsius, so standing outside is actually quite pleasant.

But back to tonight.

I was just returning from a walk when I noticed the moon rising. A full moon and it was BIG.  It was just peaking over the hill to the left of Mum’s house and I got the idea that I would try and photograph it.  Again, not a well thought out plan.

For christmas I had received a remote shutter release (very happy I might add) and I thought that this might give me a good chance to try it out.  Unfortunately my attempt to photograph the spectacular moon was a bit like trying to photograph stars for the first time  –  under prepared and a total failure.

That’s when I decided to turn my attention to startrails again.

I sat on the front veranda and googled on my iPhone until I found some instructions and then decided to give it another crack.  I fiddled with my settings for a while.. took a photo, reviewed it and did this basically until I captured the first photograph that gave me a good image of the stars that I was trying to photograph.  Then I clicked away for the next half an hour or so to gain a collection of photos.

This is one of the first images:

It wasn’t until I had taken the 6th or 7th photo that I realised that I was photographing the Southern Cross
Southern cross
Note the southern Cross in the top left hand corner (points of the red cross)
In all I took approx. 16 photos, after all I was just experimenting. With the use of some software called startrails, layering each of the pictures on top of each other was so simple, the program does it for you (highly recommended for any other novices out there).  And this is my result….
Startrails over the Mallee
Now I’ll be the first to admit that it’s not the best.
There is too long of a gap between my shutter releases (this is what is causing the dotted effect), but for a second attempt I’m pretty damn happy.  My next attempt will include a much more interesting foreground scene and fingers crossed some smooth startrails.  Now.. about that moon…

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Reminders of homeThe original family farm truck

It’s hard to believe that is a month ago at this exact moment that I was saying ‘see-ya later’ to some of my amazing friends that I had made whilst I was living in Calgary.

It was an emotional time, but I have to admit I suprised myself and contained the majority of my tears.  I’m not sure if this was because I was tired and lacked the energy; because I was coming home and would see family and loved ones that I had not seen for the last year and a half; or simply because I knew that this was the beginning of the next chapter of my life.  Secretly, I think it was a combination of EVERYTHING.

Getting home was not a quick trip.

Calgary to L.A.  A 12 hour layover in LA.  LA to Melbourne. 5 hour layover in Melbourne. Melbourne to Mildura.

In total I think it was around 30+ hours, but walking across the tarmac in Mildura and spotting my niece Tamsin pressed up as close as she could get to the entrance turnstile with one of the biggest smiles on her face, made the entire journey so much more worth while.  Of course there was the rest of the homecoming crowd including my Mum, complete with a ‘Welcome Home’ balloon.

It was good to be home!

Golden Fields of Wheat

Golden Paddocks of Wheat

The last four weeks have passed by almost in a blur (thank goodness I have photo’s).  I have witnessed 2 amazing friends get married. Enjoyed a day in the beautiful Grampians. Celebrated a hen’s day floating down the mighty Murray river. Played, painted and laughed with my neices and nephews. Met the newest addition to the beautiful McLean family – Jorge. Become a ‘cricket Mum’ for our four farm kids and simply enjoyed the peace and quite, warmth and beautiful sunsets and simplicity of life that exists in this untouched place that I love and that I call home.

 There truly isn’t no place like home!

Beautiful day in the Grampian's

A beautiful day in The Grampians

Watching the kids at cricket
An evening on the pitch
Oops.. was I in charge!!
Oops… was I in charge??
Sunset at the Farm
A picture perfect sunset on the farm

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Denim, Boots and Big Hat‘s.. yep that’s that Calgary Stampede.

No visit to Calgary in July is complete without making it at least one day to the Stampede.

The first I ever heard about the Calgary Stampede was from my eldest brother when he came to Calgary to visit his then girlfriend (now wife) in the early ’90’s.  I remember him coming home and telling us that while he was visiting he had been asked to go into her work to help ‘build horses‘.  We were a bit stunned.. Horses.. why did they need horses in the bank?  His reply ‘Everyone has them, they go crazy at stampede time’.  Now I know what he is talking about.

From July 1st downtown Calgary becomes a mix of wood and hay bales as every establishment ‘Stampede-ifies’ their buildings in hope to convert their corporate buildings into rustic old ranch stables, outhouses and barns.  And if it’s not wood and hay bales, it’s painted windows depicting a wild wild west or a simple YEE-HAW!!!.

Corporate suits go out the window and wrangler jeans, boots and big hats become the office norm.  Rarely any work is ever done for the 10 days of the Stampede. Corporate functions, staff parties and other entertainment take over the working world and the celebrations begin.

Every morning generally commences with free stampede breakfasts at various street venues around the city (if you wish to wait in line…. enjoy) and of course on day one the Stampede Parade takes centre stage as it passes through the downtown core and onto the stampede grounds.

The full 10 days are action packed.  From walking the park and taking in all the sights, to enjoying the free entertainment at the various stages; hypnotists, bands, dog shows, motorbike riders, to sitting back in the saddledome and watching the Cowboy Up Challenge, Sheep dog trials or Team Cattle Penning. Wondering the Agricultural section and watching the blacksmiths, the shearers and even the Clydesdale teams being prepped and primed for the heavy hitch competitions, or simply to be ‘bedded down for the night’.

And of course you can’t forget the daily bone crunching rodeo where cowboys rope and wrestle steers and attempt to ride a full 8 seconds on bucking bronc’s and spinning bulls, nor the excitement and speed of the nightly chuckwagon races when the pounding of hooves takes over the arena and wagon’s appear to be flying all over the track.  When dinner consist of the best pizza, fried chicken or strangest concoction of foods available on the midway and dessert is that deep-fried cheesecake, snickers or in my case this year, wagon wheel (YUMMO!)

In my time here I have been to the Stampede all three years.  Watched the chuckwagon races every year and witnessed the rodeo nine times (yes nine!.. I may be slightly addicted!!).  I’ve enjoyed it on my own and with new-found friends, but by far I enjoyed it the most when I got to share it with my family and my two beautiful nephews.

The excitement on their faces. The joy in their eyes.  The passion to be ‘just like everyone else’ as they laid out their jeans and shirts  the night before in anticipation of the day ahead.  The morning of as they threaded their belts and fastened their buckles to make sure that they sat ‘just right’ before pulling on their boots and tipping their hats with a ‘howdy partner’.  They were set for the day ahead.

Seeing the amazement in their eyes as they watched in awe (and sometimes pain) the cowboys below us in the world renown Calgary Stampede Rodeo Arena, being thrown from their beasts; to watching the team cattle penning in the Saddledome and hoping and praying that the team working the cattle could beat the clock and be faster than the team before.  They truly have been special moments.

My two favorite Cowboys!

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